It’s been a quiet old week but today’s the day when once again pre-season training has started and the crazy world of Rugby League, that has some players still playing ‘last season’s’ International series, while others at Clubs across the game report back for the start of preparations for 2016, begins.
Last Friday at Hull FC all the British based players reported for kitting out and to receive we were told, the ground rules for the coming campaign; and so it begins. Sure, in the next few weeks the big news will be the arrival of the imports, but the bread and butter stuff is underway as the players start the grind of training in the wet and the cold, running up hills and pounding the streets while the fans thoughts turn to season tickets, new shirts, the fixture list and how we’ll do in 2017.
Personally, I think that if we can get the right player, then we still need one more signing, but there’s more of that later. However we already have some exciting imports, plus some great young prospects and as always at this time of year, hopes spring eternal and it’s a time for looking forward and believing!! Let’s face it, you don’t lose any games in November and December do you and with the first pre season match now announced for 3rd January at York, I think that we should all enjoy the current hiatus while we can!
In general in life you don’t normally get a second chance to make a first impression and so it was on Saturday when in front of a massive crowd at the Olympic Stadium we failed to showcase just what a great game Rugby League is. Game wise it was appalling really, even for the initiated, so what the newcomers made of it heaven knows. Personally like everyone else I spoke to afterwards, I bemoaned a dull and boring game that had little, with the exception of some great defending, to commend it. Someone at the gym yesterday commented that had England been Hull we would have been grumbling about negative tactics, aimless rugby and poor coaching, because there is little doubt that we faced the worst New Zealand team we have seen for ages and they were there for the taking. Yet, boring, down the middle, flair-less rugby league saw an England team, in the big showcase Test, not even being able to muster a single clean break never mind a try!!! We created little and no one was allowed to express themselves in what was a stiffly structured game plan that was designed in the first instance to ensure that we didn’t lose and to hell with entertaining! It was at times like watching Hull FC over the last two seasons, as on attack we relied far too much on what the acting half could do from first man.
Look at Bateman, he had a poor game, but can you blame him? We pick a second rower who has been playing as a makeshift centre at Wigan in the England centre berth for a major international match. With McNamara like Lee Radford, it appears that whatever the position you play on the field it’s a case of the bigger the better. If I was to pinpoint an issue it would be that our Coach should never have fallen out with Danny Brough, because on Saturday we needed some of his sort of magic to fire some variation and the element of surprise, but instead we bashed and biffed our way up the middle while we lacked any guile or creativity across the line.
However for me that disputed try going against us was pretty fortuitous in some ways, because if it had been a draw then it could have been extremely embarrassing for the Rugby League, who before the game announced that McNamara’s side only needed to draw Saturday’s second Test to take the silverware, ‘by virtue of Great Britain having beaten New Zealand 3-0 in a series 2007’. What the hell is all that about, sometimes you know our lot beggar belief because for me a draw, like a defeat, should have meant it was all on the last game? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot? I wonder sometimes with our lot at Redhall, I really do!
So back at Hull FC another week goes by and another potential target bites the dust as Ben Jones Bishop signed for Wakefield. I guess I thought that perhaps he could have added a bit of strike wide out, but I was never sure that he would have had the impact on the team or our season ticket sales, that the signing of Carney would have brought. We appear to have a few players with the potential to at least be as good as Jones-Bishops and that’s certainly not sour grapes, it’s simply a fact.
I promise not to go on about it again, but I have to say here that the ‘Castleford Try Machine’ was for me the ‘big miss’, he would have been a massive coup, yes he’s is as I said last week, a real pantomime villain, but he’s also a massive talent and a big, big draw. As if to echo those thoughts, on capturing his signature this week the Salford Chief Executive said, “He can do absolutely everything. He’s going to have a massive influence on our team. As an overall winger you’d say he has everything in his locker” He added that Salford had carefully considered the signing following his off-field problems and that the current Salford players would welcome him into the squad, “With open arms”. Bit different to our lot then…allegedly?
It was said this week that the final decision was down to our coach and not to do with money, so one has to wonder, because surely that decision cannot have been based on a debate as to whether the player would score a hatful of tries for our Club or entertain and fire up us lot the punters, because I’m sure he would!!
Someone text me this week having a go about me banging on in here about Carney and stating how he would have ‘upset’ certain of our current players had he signed. However I make no apologies for what I said, because for me we need someone who scores 20 tries regularly in a season and bugger the baggage, you mange that!
However what’s done is done and we moved on with money to spend on the right player and cash left under the cap to accommodate them. Next up it was BJB and the message boards again went into meltdown. We were told Jones Bishop was fed up of the driving from West Yorkshire to Salford and didn’t much fancy it in the other direction to Hull either, (which was in itself for me a bit of a worry commitment wise) and anyway we had a value on the player and Wakefield matched our offer and paid a fee to Salford too. On top of that his favoured position is full back and we couldn’t guarantee him much starting game time there, so it wasn’t by any means a done deal and as for a situation of ‘best fit’, I guess we probably did right to move on.
A few fans are disappointed with losing out on both these targets, with yours truly, as I say, certainly bemoaning the loss of Carney, but not Jones Bishop, because for me we were sensible in knowing that with Lancaster and Naughton we have a couple of players with at least the potential to be as good as him. However reading an article in the Mail on Friday entitled, ‘Do Hull FC need to sign an outside back with Jack Logan waiting in the wings?’ it seems that, while the media put un-necessary pressure on another young player, the Club are now preparing us for not signing anyone and going into the new year with what we’ve got.
I say that because I feel we have to capitalise next term on what is a brilliant pack, but we don’t once again want to be a team that’s renowned for getting down the field, but increasingly failing to get over the line. If we are a couple of points behind and penned in our 20 in the last minute, we need a ‘go to’ player who at least has the ability to make the space, break out, and go the length of the field. Do we have that 90 meter man in the three-quarters now? Well you decide.
The Maths is quite simple for me, we get rid of Westerman because we have too many forwards, we get some spare money and cap space and we use it to rebalance the team by bringing in a proven scorer. The Mail article said, “Radford’s biggest issue right now is not adding to his squad, but rather deciding where this array of talented players will play, as the reality is that the Airlie Birds actually have a mountain of depth in the backs”. Yep we sure do but for me depth is not necessarily the answer, especially if all the players are of a certain level of ability. We lost Lineham, a 20 try a season player and haven’t as yet replaced him with another PROVEN scorer. When Briscoe left Tom took over the mantle, but now he’s gone, who do we have to do the same?
Strike wise Shaul has massive potential if he gets his consistency right and it doesn’t go to his head, Fornua is a big prospect but hardly a flyer, Fetuli Talanoa will bang a few heads together wide out and grab a few touch downs, Steve Michaels is OK, Callum Lancaster and Curtis Naughton have the potential but still have a lot still to prove, while Jack Logan, a great prospect, is entering that difficult second year and Carlos Tuimavave is still unproven. So, tons of depth, some real potential and some exciting prospects, but no real established go to, bread and butter, try scorer.
The best teams have more than that one predatory go to man, but I don’t think at present we even have one between 2 and 5 so much so that nobody in that list with the exception of Fornua (because he’s new) and ‘The Bin Man’ are nailed on for places. That smacks of a lot of uncertainty and a deal of choice, with a lot of adequate solutions, but with the loss of ‘the Flying Pig, no real out and out strike three quarter who is a gimme for the team sheet every week.
So, that’s why I went on about Carney, because those players are so hard to finds and he would have been the final piece in the jigsaw. The Mail bigging Logan up and putting pressure on his young shoulders isn’t the answer either, because we all still remember how the media did the same thing with young Mr Crooks and what happened there and Jack, superb prospect though he is, still has a lot of growing to do. Last year he looked brilliant coming out from ‘under the radar’, and when we were on the front foot, he looked lethal, but he disappeared somewhat when we weren’t on top and that is the difference, because players of Carneys ilk look dangerous whatever the situation their team find themselves in. Of course, they are really hard to find and only come along very occasionally, so for me you have to grab them.
I believe we have to keep looking to get that strike back into the team, not just to complete the jigsaw, but to also inspire more fans to get onboard for next season. For me powerful packs get you down the field, but predatory, uncompromising, strike players win you games.
The above refers to the Bath players, led by Captain Stuart Hooper, refusing to meet Sam Burgess to say goodbye on Thursday because they felt the player had let the club down by insisting on a move back to rugby league barely 12 months after his cross-code switch. They wonder why we call them arrogant but with the national media interpreting it like they have above, they just bring it on themselves really!
Well, no-one could have predicted it really but what an amazing take up there was last week on the membership and season ticket front, with 680 odd being sold in just 6 days! That’s a record for the most Membership sign-ups ever recorded inside just one week, it’s around a tenth of last year’s total and came as the first deadline passed by last weekend. The running total flew past the 5,000 mark and the figures are all the more impressive considering the main price saving deadline is on the 2nd January 2016 and still another two months away,.
Even more impressive was the information I gleaned last Tuesday that 650 of those sales were through the direct debit scheme (which is really growing) while the number of none season ticket memberships is still staying at around 8%. One person said to me that they had only rushed to subscribe because they thought it was the proper discount deadline, but they should have read the brochure, which was pretty clear I though. It indicated that you can still get discounted tickets at the same rates right up to January and you still have to the end of this month to grab your current seats, before they go on general sale. Once again it was a fine effort from what must be the best set of supporters in the land and to be less than 2000 short of last year’s total with almost 2 months still to go, is certainly going a bit!! As I said last week we could even still be in for a slight increase come the start of the season.
The pre season fixtures for both Hull Clubs were announced on Friday with Rovers choosing just two games against Super League opposition while we go to two Championship teams and then host that blooming Derby again! It’s an early start with a game at Bootham Crescent York on 3rd January which is a ground I don’t think I’ve seen rugby League played at before, so that should be good. Then it’s a trip to Donny and Rovers at the KC. In the past those really early games like the York one have often been subject to postponements due to frozen pitches so let’s hope its mild after Christmas, however at least now we know the full fixture list from early January to July and in less than two months we’ll be off on our travels again, full of hope and expectation! I wonder how long that will last this time around.
I was looking this week at the NRL stats website and was amazed to read just what we are getting with Frank Pritchard who last season made an amazing 3,000+ metres with an impressive 264 hit-ups for the Bulldogs. I can’t wait for him to arrive can you?
Now for some sad news, because last week we lost another great ambassador for the game and a great stalwart of Rugby League when the actor who found fame through Z Cars and Kes and the director of Chariots of Fire Colin Welland passed away. He had a way with words did Colin and one of his great quotes about the game went something like, “In south west Lancashire, babies don’t toddle, they side-step, queuing women talk of ‘nipping round the blindside’ and Rugby league provides our cultural adrenalin. It’s a physical manifestation of our rules of life, comradeship, honest endeavor, and a staunch, often ponderous allegiance to fair play.”
He was a great bloke, a long time hero of mine and although he did get a bit of stick from us lot up north when he was seen as a regular in the Royal Box at the Wembley Challenge Cup final with fellow northerners Michael Parkinson and Brian Glover, the support he gave the sport was unswerving. He was a Director of the Fulham club and I dug out an old programme I had kept from the fledgling club’s first game in Division Two against Wigan in 1980, where I remembered he had sought to highlight the differences between how both codes of rugby were portrayed.
Not shying away from the issues, he wrote of his beloved rugby league: “It has been a beef of mine and of most rugby league devotees that the image presented to the uninformed in the south by the ill-informed in the media, is one of a rumbustious laugh a minute knockabout game played by over developed members of the Variety Artists Association. The image of the beefy clown is an insult to the players and their dignity. In contrast rugby union is consistently portrayed as an intellectual if physical pursuit and is presented to the public in an erudite and highly sophisticated manner.” And here we are 35 years later, still rehearsing the same arguments and still seeing the same bigotry. Colin Welland R.I.P.
In here I hope that I try never to impose my point of view on the reader and in fact I try to promote others viewpoints as well and in that vein here’s an interesting angle on things from Down Under. I read an enthralling article the other day in the Australian Press about the falling attendances in the NRL a competition that captivates British viewers over here on Premier Sports but apparently the attraction of watching it live is wearing a bit thin over there. In the last three years NRL crowd figures have tumbled between 2012 until 2015, with season averages down by almost 8.2% over Rounds 1 – 26, and 6.86% over the regular season and finals series combined. For many within the game over there, those figures are certainly alarming. The average crowd in 2012 was 16,423 for the regular home-and-away season, but now that figure is down to only just clearing a respectable 15,000 mark. So the question is, with such a great product why have crowds over there decreased?
One thing’s for sure, those figures not only show the NRL is gaining few new fans, but also that some fans they already had in 2012 have now stopped attending. The article I read stated that, “Over the last three years, the NRL has gone about boosting their average fan attendance by playing the ‘right game at the right venue’, a strategy that understandably involved moving blockbuster games to bigger stadiums. The plan was designed to ensure fans weren’t put off attending by having to watch the game from a muddy patch on a grassy hill” However that doesn’t seem to have worked but the pundits down under then come up with some pretty unexpected theories about that decline.
Firstly, they cite the fact that the Australian Rugby League Commission banned the shoulder charge from the game at the end of 2012 to protect players and reduce the risk of cooperate liability. They don’t label this a bad move, but do believe they say that removing the biff is one of the key reasons behind a reduced ‘live’ atmosphere at NRL games these days. Secondly, midway through the 2013 season, the NRL announced it would take a zero-tolerance approach to on-field punching following Paul Gallen’s one-two on Nate Myles and that again reduces the biff and apparently the appeal. It appears the Aussies like a good old punch up!!
The politically correct will list that ban as a victory and it’s hard to argue against banning scrapping when you’re talking about parents encouraging their children to take up the sport. But the media boys over there state that the game was for 100 years built on toughness, and those who didn’t want to be involved in some argy-bargy didn’t play the game. There is little doubt even in this country that in the 70’s and 80’s people used to go to a game knowing in the back of their mind that something could possibly erupt, and everyone was on their feet as soon as it happened.
Lastly something I can agree with, as they state that the live NRL experience has been ruined by the constant referrals to the video referee by on-field-officials. The media reckon that the fans are sick of it. The pundits believe that these three elements are taking away from the atmosphere at the grounds and the engagement of the fans.
In conclusion the RL media in Australian said that “The administration can cite the car-parking at suburban ovals and the meat-pie prices all they want, but for us, the problem lies in the changes to the product. The rubbing out of the shoulder charge and the much-loved rugby league ‘punch up’ plus the drastic increases in referee referrals’ have changed the way the game is experienced”.
I don’t know what you make of all that, but although I guess they have a point, you can’t condone shoulder charges, much as I miss them, because they have been proved to be dangerous and a good old fashioned scrap sets the wrong example. However whether the administration like it or not, it appears that video referee’s get everyone’s goat in the game, wherever it is played. However, I can’t ever see those first two excuses for reduced attendances being trotted out in this country and it just shows how different the attitude and culture is at both sides of the World towards a game that is basically the same as far as rules and organisation are concerned.
Last Saturday FC Voices again hosted the now annual laying of a wreath at the Jack Harrison Memorial at the KC Stadium. It is done as a mark of respect and to remember all the fans, players and officials of our Club who have over the years given their lives for their country. With music by the Driffield Silver Band and a short service conducted by the Club Chaplain, it was a poignant few moments and it was great to see so many FC fans braving the elements to be there. Good stuff!
Last week’s Codgers Spot rattled a few of the old grey cells for some readers and thanks for all the correspondence I got concerning Brian Smith and that great first season he was at our Club. ‘Porky’ Pearce also seemed to stimulate a few memories and it was great to hear from Bill Dalton the Club historian this week who added some interesting stuff about the ubiquitous Mr Pearce. Bill wrote:
I also had a laugh re Gary Pearce. Of course, he was credited with being signed on at twice the wages that Schofield was on, which partly led to GS disillusionment with Hull. I recall being at an AGM when Roy Waudby told the Shareholders that what they were paying Pearce was none of our business. What is not generally known about Gary however is that he holds a record or two at Hull. He has kicked more 1 Point Drop Goals than anybody else (30), most in a Season (16 in 1988-89) and also most individual Points in a Derby (18: 3 tries and 3 Goals on Good Friday 1989)
Also of note is that marvellous break when running out a Joe Lydon Penalty which fell short on (30 March 1988). WE were drawing at the time 12-12 with only seconds left. Gary went all the way before giving it to Paul McCaffrey who went in under the sticks for an 18-12 win.
Thanks Bill that’s interesting stuff because Pearce was always a character always a 100% player and always a big hero of mine!
Well now, seen as he was all the talk of the Club last week, as he attended our 150th Celebration and the International game, I thought in this Codgers spot it would be appropriate to have a closer look at one of the greatest players I have seen turn out for the FC, the great James ‘Lullaby’ Leuluai. I spoke to him last week and he told me that he was now a councillor for young people as was Fred Akoi and that Gary Kemble was a farmer, while he added that as we spoke Dane O’Hara was riding the length of Route 66 with a load of his mates on ‘Harley Davidsons’. James is a legend and despite a nickname given to him by the rest of the players, because he was always falling asleep, (once infamously, it was rumoured, during an Arthur Bunting pre match team talk) with the fans he was a real star.
James was without doubt one of the greatest players I have ever seen in any shirt never mind a Hull one! In 1981 it was widely rumoured (Yep we had them back then too) that Hull FC were about to pounce for James, Dane O’Hara and Fred Ah Kuoi. These were three of the stars from the previous season’s New Zealand touring team and although the signing of Fred fell through, (for the time being at least) and he was replaced by Garry Kemble, our club shook the game world-wide, with the audacity of this triple transfer swoop.
James was already an established international when he arrived, and within weeks of his debut at the Boulevard his pace, ability to beat players and exciting dashing style had the Rugby League clubs of this country sitting up and taking notice. He had the whole box of tricks in attack, with a side step off both feet, a terrific dummy and pass, a swerve that was a joy to watch and a turn of speed that saw him destined to score 9 out of 10 times, when put clear of the defensive line.
The sepia, grainy ‘camera’ in my head remembers vividly several fantastic touch downs for the club, and none better than his try in the Semi final against Cas in 1983, and the one in the Wembley final against Wigan in 1985. The first of these at Headingley was hailed by many RL pundits as one of the greatest solo tries of all time, and is probably best summed up by the report I dug out from the Yorkshire Post from Monday 4th April 1983. This read, “There was no way anyone could stop Leuluai. The New Zealander slipped past two Castleford players just over half way, arced round another, and with two amazing side steps had Cas fullback Coen grasping thin air. Leuluai then had the pace to sprint for the score with not a hand placed on him till he went over the line”. That for me says it all really! The Sports Mail headline the same night announced, “Leuluai Special sinks Cas” and with a tight score line of 14-7, although it was a great team effort, I think that they got that right!
Another Leuluai special was that great try in the Wembley final against Wigan in ‘85. Acclaimed as probably the best Final ever because of the sheer quality of many of the scores, James’ effort near the end fitted that category admirably. Receiving the ball about 70 yards out, Leuluai flashed through the Wigan line, and set off in a dash to score with Henderson Gill, Edwards, and Donlan trailing in his wake but unable to get anywhere near him. I can still see him glancing over first his left and then his right shoulder, as he headed down the middle towards the line; he was a truly great centre. Amazingly, when you look back he was a none playing sub in our famous 14-14 drawn final against Widnes in 1982, but starred without touching the ball in the amazing replay win at Elland Road, providing the dummy run and ‘foil’ for that much vaunted ‘wrap round’ try that had Widnes tottering just before half time.
If a mark of James true class is needed then it must be the fact that although playing in this country at Hull FC he was still named as New Zealand’s player of the year in 1983. Leuluai was a great lover of music too and rarely travelled anywhere without his trusty guitar. He was often spotted, particularly when we were seeing off the lads from the Boulevard as they set off for yet another final, serenading his team mates as the team coach motored slowly down Airlie Street, which was invariably lined with cheering fans.
James had a distinguished international career, making 29 Test appearances for New Zealand and scoring 14 tries. In 1986 with Fred Au Kuoi now on our books, James was the only one of the four New Zealanders not to sign a new contract, and he was transfer listed at £50,000 in March of that year. His form was sadly starting to wane, he could still get through the line but his pace was fading, and he eventually joined Leigh on loan the following November. He played only 6 games before returning to Hull but managed just 3 more games for our club.
He then joined Wakefield, playing 51 games for them, before a short spell at York was followed by 13 games for Doncaster after which he retired from Rugby League altogether. Only 1,557 saw his final performance against Leigh at Tatters Field Doncaster on 14th April 1991 in what was an inglorious final bow for such a talented and gifted player. However I will always remember him at his best, as he danced round the first tackle and then accelerated away towards the line, his socks turned down to his ankles to reveal a pair of shiny tanned athletic legs. He was without doubt one of the greatest and most popular players to grace our famous shirt and one of the best centres I have ever seen. He might not have stayed long enough to get a Testimonial but just about every other 3 and 4 playing in the current Super League has some way to go yet to match the sensational centre that was James Leuluai. Those of us who watched him play were truly lucky and we’ll never forget him either!
Next a big thank you to Kevin Horsley who has solved any problems that Diary readers have with regard to what to buy this Christmas for the Rovers fan in your life who has everything!
Well on Friday night it was one of those great evenings when everyone was in the Drum and Monkey as the old place witnessed a sad occasion as Chico Jackson and a few other luminaries from the RL world joined us to wish Bon Voyage to ex Skirlaugh Coach and FC Stalwart Stu Harman, who is leaving the country for a new life over in Spain.
Sometimes as a RL fan you occasionally meet guys who simply get it and I have had some great times at the KC with Stu but now with his partner Jane he’s off to open a holiday home in La Huelga in Spain. If you fancy a couple of weeks in a quality apartment in the sun, up there in the Spanish Hills, check out their website on www.casa-montana.co.uk. Good luck Jane and Stu we’ll all miss you at the D&M and ‘keep believing!’
Heard a good rumour this week about Rovers new home shirts, apparently they all come with one neck hole…2 arm holes and space for an a**e hole.
So there we are a quiet week and another Diary somehow scratched together, so thanks to everyone who contacted me last week I really do take on board your suggestions and please keep them coming. There should be some news from training by the next edition and I’ll do what I can to get some more information about what’s happening at our great Club by then too. Finally it was great to meet some readers at the Jack Harrison wreath laying on Saturday, thanks for coming!
Try to Keep Believing